When Matisse was busy dominating the Paris art scene in the early 20th century, Fauvism made a brief appearance in the City of Love. A group of artists, not including Matisse, showed their work together at the Salon d’Automne (1905). At age 25, Andre Derain (1880-1954) was among these artists called “wild beasts” (the French translation of Fauves) by the art critic, Louis Valtat.
Fauvism continued the naturalism of the Impressionists and reflected the influence of Vincent Van Gogh, especially in the work of Derain. The big question is whether Derain’s canvases were really marks of a wild beast.
Andre Derain was born in Chatou, a residential suburb on the Seine in the northwestern vicinity of Paris. Derain’s early training included study under Carriere. Derain was a friend of Matisse and another Fauvist, Maurice Vlaminck (1876-1958).
Like other Fauvist painters, Derain decorated canvases that exuded vibrant color and emotion. This depth of feeling was seen again in Expressionist works (ala Edvard Munch). “Houses of Parliament from Westminster Bridge” (1906) is a good example of how Derain used color. This scene and other London and Paris cityscapes were common in his Fauvist work.
In “Houses of Parliament,” Derain uses vivid red, orange, and yellow to show the buildings of Parliament. The yellow and red tones are echoed in soft hints around the puffy white clouds that dominate the left top of the painting. These brilliant colors contrast starkly with the dark green tones of the bridge and the dark green and white tones of the River Thames.
Derain also created an important portrait of Matisse in 1905. This work now belongs to the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Another architectural theme by Derain is found in another London cityscape called “Charing Cross Bridge” (1906). In this picture, Derain shows the architectural feature of the bridge as secondary in importance to the elements of the river and the skyline of buildings behind the bridge. Derain marks the bridge as a simple rectangular shape of solid blue accented by bold red X’s. The water below the bridge is formed by irregular ovals and circles of color against the solid background (almost like the cobblestones on an ancient city street).
Later Derain turned to more exotic subjects, including African art and primitive styles of France and Italy. In the U.S., Derain’s work is also found in the collections of the Lyman Allyn Museum (New London, CT) and the Art Institute of Chicago. Derain died in 1954.